Bits+bricks+behavior = The future of work

Posted on: Feb 28, 2018 by Philipp Bohn

Bits, bricks and behavior: I first heard about the “New Work triad” during a speech that Markus Albers, a consultant and influencer in this space, gave at the Factory. The Factory is one of an explosively growing number of coworking spaces and innovation communities here in Berlin, that are collectively hosting disruptive new businesses like SoundCloud or Tesla, established corporates and SMBs like Daimler or Triumph-Adler, and an eclectic mix of freelancers, startups, writers, public servants, and innovators.

Over the past years, contributors from our own Circuit product, marketing and sales teams have been using coworking spaces like the Factory, St. Oberholz, WeWork and others as our flexible offices, for internal workshops or customer meetings. As a result, we were able to get feedback on our product from a new audience, build relationships with potential new channel and media partners, explore new workplace settings with our customers, offer mentorship to startups, change the perception of Unify as a disruptive technology provider, and generally keep the pulse on innovation.

I want to share our thinking and insights on why we‘re coworking with Circuit team collaboration on a higher level, and how bits, bricks, and behavior need to come together for a successful digital workplace strategy.

Bits, or picking the right collaboration tools

Historically, most of our communication and collaboration have been relying on email and phones. They have been used and abused as project management tools, to broadcast company news or as a chat substitute: Who‘s up for lunch today? Email and telephony will retain their place in the office in one form or another. But new, more open work environments require new, more collaborative tools.

In an early iteration, Unified Communications pulled physical telephony from the desktop to our PCs, laptops, and headsets, giving us software-based call control and instant messaging. Enterprise Social Networks brought social networking to the enterprise (hence the name). Team messaging and collaboration platforms like Circuit are the most recent iteration: Employees – millennial or not – use services like WhatsApp, Skype or Facebook in their private lives and expect similar options at work. Circuit translates relevant parts of this communication environment from the consumer into the business world in a secure, scalable way, consolidating voice and video conferencing, team messaging, screen sharing and files into one consistent interface.

Circuit team messaging

More open sharing of information and knowledge becomes the new norm. "Give first" is a mantra in communities that are driving and defining the future of work. In this context, employees need new collaboration platforms that make it easy to share knowledge, information, and ideas in the context of projects and teams, inside and outside their businesses. Strong mobile capabilities are expected, with feature parity across browsers and operating systems. Cloud deployments ensure maximum flexibility and enable rapid innovation cycles to adapt to dynamically evolving business environments.

With Circuit, Unify has compressed development cycles that have spanned months and years in the past to two-week development sprints with monthly releases, to deliver new capabilities and security features to our customers.

Bricks, or creating the flexible physical space

Like tools, offices have seen significant change over the past years. People have been moving from single and corner offices to open floors and shared desks. But when I visit those offices, I find them increasingly empty: People are working from home, on the road and at customer sites, not least thanks to new tools, but also to achieve a better work-life balance. "Work is a thing you do, not a place you go" is now a truism.

That‘s where the current iteration of workspace comes in: Coworking. Coworking spaces come in all flavors, shapes, and forms, but most are offering very flexible team rooms, community areas, easily bookable meeting rooms with equipment for brainstorming or more structured collaboration, and phone booths to protect your privacy and your coworkers‘ sanity.

St. Oberholz in Berlin combines coworking and coffee culture

Professionally-run coworking spaces are actively managing their communities with events like joint breakfasts, meetups, inspirational tech talks, mentoring programs or even physical exercise. They are designed to encourage new connections and interactions, meet people from other industries and walks of life, find new business partners and in general share ideas and knowledge to evolve increasingly connected businesses.

Behavior, or Dos and Don‘ts

So tools and spaces are changing. But what‘s the work context for all this change, why is it relevant? On a strategic level, trends like digitalization, artificial intelligence or the Internet of Things are key drivers for change in almost any industry and business. We are increasingly and collectively moving from hardware to software, from products to platforms, from on-premise to cloud, from capex to opex, from owning to sharing.

To survive, or even better to lead in this new world, businesses and people need to adapt their behaviors. With technological disruption and lowering barriers to entry almost any market, it‘s getting increasingly difficult to plan years ahead, so we need to be more agile and iterate as we go along and learn. We need to think and act collaboratively: Give first! Much quicker innovation cycles don‘t go well with strict hierarchies, command and control leadership styles, or poor communication.

To win in a digital world, companies need new skills that often can‘t be found inside their boundaries or fly below the radar of senior management, be it software developers, data scientists, growth hackers, social media influencers or innovation specialists. Global corporates like Siemens, BMW or Bosch are experimenting with new techniques like Working Out Loud to build relationships and share work online across company firewalls. In reverse mentoring programs, younger employees coach their more senior colleagues in areas like digital workflows and collaboration tools, or how to better attract and retain talent as an employer.

In short, people need to build trust and share knowledge in increasingly dynamic, changing business environments. Managers need to enable their teams to make decisions and execute, instead of micro-manage. Done right, virtual tools, and physical spaces enable this kind of behavior and autonomy.

Fine, so what does it mean for my business?

One interesting example of how corporates are introducing themselves to new neighborhoods is Siemens Mobility. The German industry giant just recently moved parts of the organization off their premises and into the Factory Berlin to establish their own Internet of Things incubator, engage with startups and develop innovative technologies and digital business models. Siemens employees will be able to flexibly use the coworking space as they contribute to new mobility projects.

Needless to say, big upfront investment isn‘t the only option to get started. You can start small and iterate. Ask yourself:

  • What do bits, bricks, and behavior mean in the context of my business and industry, and what‘s changing?
  • Am I targeting one element of the equation but neglecting another? For example, open collaboration tools provide little value if teams are discouraged from freely sharing knowledge.
  • Am I offering my team virtual and physical environments that support flexible and mobile work where needed?
  • Are there coworking spaces where I live and work (almost certainly yes), and what‘s my contribution to the community?
  • Where do I find new partners that can help innovate and launch new products and services, outside of my comfort zone?

One thing that you can do right now, for free and in a matter of minutes is to sign your team up to Circuit for your next big, collaborative project. Bits: Check!

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About Philipp Bohn

VP Circuit at Unify and CEO of blueKiwi
Philipp is VP Circuit and CEO of blueKiwi Software at Atos. In previous roles at Unify, he worked as Chief of Staff and in strategy planning. As an industry analyst at Berlecon Research, his focus has been on enterprise communication technology and digital media. Philipp holds a degree in business administration from University of Mannheim.

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